AFCON 2019 gets underway in Egypt on June 21st. It is expected to attract a global TV audience of hundreds of millions and here are some players who might be expected to star in this year’s tournament. For the sake of variety, this list excludes players like Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, and Riyad Mahrez who are already well-known to followers of the Premier League.
Denis Masinde Onyango, Uganda
Ugandan goalkeeper plays his club football with the South African side Mamelodi Sundowners. The 34 year old keeper was named the best in his position at the CAF awards for 2018, and is the captain of the national side.
Renowned for his penalty-saving, and ability to cope with one-on-one situations, he was named African Player of the Year for 2016. Since making his international debut in 2005 he has made 63 appearances for the Uganda Cranes.
Kalidou Kalibaly, Senegal
Napoli centre-back Koulibaly is likely to be a man in high demand this summer. Manchester United have reportedly had a bid of £75 million for him turned down, whilst Real Madrid are also rumoured to have made an offer for him. The 27-year old has established himself as one of the best centre-backs in Serie A with Napoli, who he joined from Belgian side Genk in 2014.
Koulibaly is an imposing player known for his aerial ability, tough tackling, and positioning, as well as for his skill in playing out from the back. Nicknamed both “K2” and “The Wall” by the Napoli fans, he is regarded as one of the most complete defenders in world football.
Born in France to Senegalese parents, he qualifies to play for both nations, and began his career under-20 level for France. However, he opted to switch his allegiance to Senegal in 2015, making his debut that same year in an AFCON qualifier against Namibia. He has since gone on to make 32 international appearances for his adopted country, and was part of their squad at last year’s World Cup.
Nicolas Pépé, Ivory Coast
Currently playing for French side Lille, winger Pepe is another man likely to move for big money this summer, with a price of £69 million likely to be needed to secure his services for next season. Known for his blistering pace, he has drawn comparisons with Eden Hazard, and his scoring ability – he averages nearly a goal every two games for his club. He has been linked with Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League, whilst Real Madrid are also reported to be running the rule over him.
Born in France to Ivorian parents, he made his debut for the Ivory Coast in a friendly against France in November 2016, and scored his first international goal for them in another friendly, this time against Togo. He has since scored three other international goals, including one in his most recent appearance for the national side, in their 3 – 0 AFCON qualifier against Rwanda in March.
André Onana, Cameroon
Another member of the successful Ajax team this season, Onana is an athletic goalkeeper, who began his career in Spain with Barcelona after graduating from the Samuel Eto’o Foundation. The 23 year old made his switch to Ajax in 2015, and forced his way in to the first team there a year later. He has since gone on to make nearly 100 senior appearances for them, and was part of their successful double winning side this season, as well as being a key element in their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
He made his debut for Cameroon in a win over Gabon, and has since earned 9 international caps for his country.
Hakim Ziyech, Morocco
Anybody who followed Ajax’s stunning run to the semi-finals of the Champions League this season will need no introduction to Hakim Ziyech. The 26-year old winger was the Dutch footballer of the year for 2018, and has just helped his side to a domestic league and cup double. Known for his pace and dribbling ability, as well as being a free kick expert. He is expected to leave Ajax this summer, and will have no shortage of suitors for his signature – Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool are just some of the clubs reported to be interested in him.
Although born in the Netherlands, and having represented the country at under-18, under-20, and under-21 level, he qualifies to play for Morocco through his parents, and switched his international allegiance to them in 2015. He has subsequently gone on to play for them 23 times, and has 12 goals so far to his credit.
Medhi Benatia, Morocco
Benatia, who captains the Moroccan national side, has been a well-known face for some time in Europe, having played for some of the continent’s biggest clubs, including Roma, Bayern Munich and Juventus. Known for his athleticism, he is a tall, strong defender who is good in the air, but also is able to play with the ball at his feet. Known as an organiser, he has won 58 caps for his country to date, scoring twice, including one of the goals away to Mali that saw Morocco qualify for Russia 2018, their first World Cup appearance in 20 years. He would later describe it as the highlight of his career.
In January this year, he left Juventus and joined Qatari side Al-Duhail.
Thomas Partey, Ghana
Thomas Partey is a defensive midfielder, currently playing for Atlético Madrid, although he has been linked with a summer move to the Premier League with both Arsenal and Manchester United both chasing his signature. The 25-year old began his career with local side Odometah FC before securing his move to Spain in 2013. Since then he has been on the losing side in a Champions League final, and was named in the CAT team of the year for 2018.
He has made 17 international appearances for Ghana so far and has a good scoring record for them, having found the net seven times, including a hat-trick against Congo in a World Cup qualifier in September 2017. You can watch the exciting AFCON 2019 tournament exclusively on beIN SPORTS when you subscribe to the Arabic Mosaic Pack here www.sling.com/arabictv !